Reading the Word
Matthew 21:20–22 (ESV)
20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Parallel Text: Mark 11:20-26; John 14:12-14
Understanding and Applying the Word
When the disciples saw the fig tree wither, they were amazed. They were not focused on the meaning of Jesus’ sign, but on its power. How could Jesus do this? Jesus answered by telling the disciples if they “have faith and do not doubt” they could tell the mountains to be thrown into the sea and it would be done. In fact, they could ask for anything in prayer and receive it, as long as they had faith.
This is a passage that has been abused and misused by many. Jesus is not telling the disciples that they can hold God hostage to give them whatever they desire as long as they use the correct magic formula (i.e. faith). In the Bible, true faith is not one’s ability to believe in a particular outcome. True faith is the exercise of trust in God, whether the circumstances or outcomes are what is desired or not. So, to exercise faith is to trust in the plans and purposes of God, even in the midst of difficulty. Jesus is not teaching “name it, claim it” theology. John 14:12-14 says that whatever you ask “in my name” will be done. The phrase “in my name” tells us that what we ask for has to be consistent with the plans and purposes of Christ.
Jesus’ words to his disciples are to encourage them. They will have great power and authority of their own and it will be exercised through prayer. The Lord stands behind them and what may seem impossible to them, like throwing a mountain into the sea, will be possible through the power of God working in and through them. This is a truth that the disciples would need to remember in the days ahead as Jesus departs from the world and they are left to bear witness to the world. It is also a message that Jesus’ followers today need to remember as we proclaim the gospel in a world that stands in opposition to Christ. Incredible things can happen through prayer and the power of God working in and through us. Let us pray and let us have faith!
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